Politics & Poker: No Shortage of Political Scions Dotting 2010 Map

Posted February 12, 2010 at 5:34pm

With his surprising defeat two weeks ago in the Republican primary in Illinois’ 14th district, attorney Ethan Hastert joins an ever-growing fraternity: political scions who fail in their bids to follow famous family members into elective office.

[IMGCAP(1)]He won’t be alone this election cycle.

Whether it’s a Democratic year or a Republican year, whether voters want to throw the bums out or embrace political insiders, plenty of political legacies are always on the ballot. And it’s always hard to predict how they’ll do. The name provides plenty of assets up front, but it only takes you so far. In the end, campaigns matter, as the cliché goes, and each winning and losing scenario for a political scion unfolds in its own unique way.

Three things seem particularly noteworthy this cycle:

• The presence of at least a couple of scion-vs.-scion races: South Carolina’s 1st district GOP primary, where the leading candidates include businessman Carroll Campbell III, son of the former governor, and Charleston County Councilman Paul Thurmond, son of the late Sen. Strom Thurmond (R), and New York’s Democratic gubernatorial primary between Gov. David Paterson and state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, who have long had their own political identities — but also have famous fathers.

• The likelihood that Clark County Commissioner Rory Reid will be the Democratic gubernatorial nominee in Nevada at the same time that his father, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D), is bidding for a fifth term — and the very real possibility that the presence of each on the ballot this fall will hurt the other.

• The emergence of political grandsons set to sail forth in political races.

The latter phenomenon is particularly fun for us old-timers.

By our count, two presidential grandsons are running for office this year. Lawyer and business consultant Chris Cox, the 30-year-old grandson of former President Richard Nixon — and equally significant, the son of New York GOP Chairman Ed Cox — is seeking the Republican nomination in New York’s 1st district. And Jason Carter (D), a 34-year-old attorney who has the wide grin and steely blue eyes of his grandpa, former President Jimmy Carter, is running in a yet-to-be-scheduled special state Senate election in Georgia.

Even as a Republican resurgence appears to be under way on eastern Long Island, Chris Cox has stepped in a political minefield. For months, businessman Randy Altschuler was the leading

Republican in the race to take on four-term Rep. Tim Bishop (D) — at least to hear officials at the National Republican Congressional Committee tell it — and Altschuler ran strong in two public polls.

But Suffolk County Republican Committee Chairman John Jay LaValle — who once was considered a rising star in New York politics until a corruption scandal hit the town where he was supervisor — hates Altschuler. So the Republican field has grown to include Cox, former CIA agent Gary Berntsen and attorney George Demos. In the midst of this crowded and tumultuous primary, Cox will have to convince voters that he’s more than just a weekend resident of the 1st district — though his father’s family has deep roots there — and that his candidacy wasn’t nurtured by the state party (read: Dad).

Jason Carter also faces some controversy as he prepares to run for the state Senate — the place where Jimmy Carter launched his political career — though the controversy has been generated by the old man himself. The younger Carter is preparing to run in an Atlanta-area district where the incumbent state Senator, David Adelman (D), has been nominated to be ambassador to Singapore. The Senate was supposed to vote to confirm Adelman last week, but the vote was snowed out.

Because the district has a sizable Jewish population, Jimmy Carter’s penchant for criticizing Israeli leaders could become an issue. So some Carter critics saw political opportunism in an open letter that the former president recently wrote to the Jewish community outlining his hopes for Israel’s future. In general, though, in a liberal district that also has plenty of African-American voters, the Carter name is expected to help the young candidate more than it hurts.

A little to the west, another political grandson, 56-year-old attorney Taze Shepard, has emerged as the Democratic frontrunner in Alabama’s 5th district. His grandfather is the late Sen. John Sparkman (D), who spent 32 years in the Senate and 10 in the House and was the Democratic nominee for vice president in 1952 (where his GOP counterpart on the ballot was Nixon). Shepard, a former member of the Alabama State Board of Education, announced his candidacy last week in front of a large oil portrait of his grandfather.

Speaking of candidates who were drubbed by Nixon — and their grandsons — we almost saw the grandson of former Sen. George McGovern (S.D.), the Democratic presidential nominee in 1972, run for his grandfather’s old Senate seat this year. Matt McGovern, 37, who works for an energy reform group in Sioux Falls, decided to pass on a race against the very formidable Sen. John Thune (R).

Interesting thing about the young McGovern: It’s his mom who is a McGovern, not his dad. Matt McGovern’s father, Jim Rowen, was almost elected mayor of Madison, Wis., in 1979. His brother, Sam McGovern-Rowen, ran unsuccessfully for City Council in Milwaukee in 2008. And his other grandfather was also well-known in these parts: He was Hobart Rowen, the very fine economics writer for the Washington Post for several years. (Jim Rowen, after his foray into politics, also became a business writer in Milwaukee — are we overwhelming you with trivia yet?)

Some other political scions are running this year: Alabama state Rep. Earl Hilliard Jr. is running in a crowded Democratic primary for the 7th district seat that his father once held; Doug Pike, the son of former Rep. Otis Pike (D-N.Y.), is a former Philadelphia Inquirer editorial writer and the leading Democratic candidate in Pennsylvania’s 6th district; Jim Hagedorn, the son of former Rep. Thomas Hagedorn (R-Minn.), is seeking the GOP nomination in Minnesota’s 1st district; Iraq War veteran Brian Rooney, the brother of Rep. Tom Rooney (R-Fla.), is running in the Republican primary in Michigan’s 7th district; New York Assemblyman Adam Clayton Powell IV (D), son of the former Congressman, is preparing to challenge Rep. Charlie Rangel (D); Alabama gubernatorial contender Tim James (R) is the son of former Gov. Fob James, who served as both a Democrat and a Republican; lawyer Pete Domenici Jr., the son of retired Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.), is a Republican candidate for governor in New Mexico; and Mike McWherter (D), a lawyer and businessman, is running for governor in Tennessee, a job that his father, Ned McWherter (D), once held.

In his own separate category is former California Gov. Jerry Brown (D), who is running to for governor again, 36 years after he was first elected to a job that his father also held (and his sister once sought unsuccessfully).

Political legacies who may run for Congress this year: attorney Ben Quayle (R), son of former Vice President Dan Quayle, who may run for the open seat of retiring Rep. John Shadegg (R-Ariz.); businessman John Arthur Hammerschmidt (R), who may run for the Arkansas House seat that his father, ex-Rep. John Paul Hammerschmidt (R), once held; and Joseph Kennedy III (D), who is mentioned as a possible candidate if Rep. Bill Delahunt (D-Mass.) retires.

Also in his own category: former Rep. Harold Ford Jr. (D-Tenn.).

That’s a long and impressive lineup. And for every Ethan Hastert, who failed in his bid to win the House seat long held by his father, former Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), these legacies are sure to be focusing instead on the story of Louisiana Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu (D), who was elected mayor of New Orleans 10 days ago — on his second attempt.